The Gators took two of three this weekend at Alabama to possibly set up a series for the SEC pennant in two weeks at South Carolina. The Gators (33-12, 17-7) defeated Alabama (29-19, 10-14) Friday and Saturday. South Carolina (36-11, 17-7) lost twice at Kentucky (25-21, 8-15) in the Gamecocks' first series loss in SEC play. UF and South Carolina are tied for the SEC lead with records of 17-7. Each has an SEC series before they meet for the final SEC series in Columbia starting on May 20th.
The weekend story could have been UF changing up their rotation, throwing Hudson Randall on Friday, Alex Panteliodis on Saturday and Brian Johnson on Sunday. Johnson was the only one who struggled, even if he got a no-decision in Sunday's 10-8 loss. Randall was fantastic, throwing seven shutout innings for his 9-3 win, the freshman's sixth victory. Randall has learned to take advantage of the nation's third best defense, throwing to contact and not relying on umpires to give him calls. Friday night, Randall couldn't get an outside call, but still was able to silence Bama. Panteliodis got his eighth win Saturday in Florida's 14-8 win. But he had to battle, allowing eight hits, four walks and four runs. His five strikeouts kept him out of deeper trouble.
The Gators offense was the big winner, as it continues humming. Florida has made an effort to not just avoid bad pitches but bad outs. They can still have pop outs and chase pitches into ground ball outs. But when the weekend began with a two run, two-out rally, it was a sign of a maturing offense. Freshman Austin Maddox continues to be an example of that. He hit his 14th and 15th homers of the season and had five RBI in the three games. But, that pales in comparison to what Mike Zunino is doing.
Freshmen catchers are not supposed to start every game. If they do, they are not supposed to hit or manage a great pitching staff. Zunino was doing two of three and the Gators could accept Zunino building sand castles while he was at bat. Instead, Zunino has a 10-game hitting streak and was 6-12 with seven RBI this weekend. Zunino is now hitting .283 after spending the beginning of the season around .200. On a team with career offensive seasons, Zunino's rally as a freshman might be the most impressive performance. Too bad for him Maddox leads the team with 15 home runs and 55 RBI.
UF starts a five-game homestand Wednesday against FAU. Friday begins a series against Georgia (13-32, 3-18). Next Tuesday, UF plays UNF and starts their season finale at South Carolina on May 20.